Prem Singh is one of the many Dalits in the country who are manual scavengers. Manual scavenging involves removing human and animal excreta using brooms, small tin plates, and baskets that are carried on the head. Refusal to perform such tasks leads to physical abuse and social boycott.
Fifty-Two year old Prem Singh, born into a family of manual scavengers, was condemned to a life of drudgery and indignity for nearly half a century. This manual scavenger had been carrying human excreta from the young age and till few months back. With the passing of time, his family, wife and two sons, were also engaged in the same ‘profession’. They were all working in Didamai Panchayat of Firozabad district. Uneducated and belonging to the lowest caste, they never thought of doing something else. They felt ‘destined’ to practice this inhuman job of carrying human waste on their heads. During the community contact drive, he came in contact with the Community Sanitation Mobilizers. He started realizing the unhygienic condition under which he and his family is working, the disease which might attack him and most importantly the loss of self respect and dignity. The persistent efforts of USHA (Urban Sanitation and Hygiene Action) team motivated him and after few meetings he agreed to change his nature of work. Now the issue was how to find another work which he can perform and also earn his livelihood. The Community Based Organisation (CBO) formed under USHA Project provided the solution. The Noor Nagar CBO has now engaged him as street sweeper and household garbage collector. As a result his family has taken the area of 8 different streets as Sweepers. He gets Rs. 15/- from each house against the work (as a sweeper). He and his family is now happy that this work has also not only helped them financially but also helped in maintaining the self respected and dignity within the society. One of his son is now working in the bangle factory.
The whole family bid good bye to that miserable stage of life only a month ago. Today he is happy and wishes to forget his “filthy past”. Now his family is free from what Mahatma Gandhi termed as the “hateful, inhuman, unhealthy practice” of manual scavenging.
Legally, cleaning of dry latrines and transporting of human excreta has been banned since 1993. Under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry latrines (which are not connected to a drainage system) can result in imprisonment up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000. Offenders are also liable to prosecution under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.